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As you can see from all the comfort food recipes Val and I have been posting, it’s more than just officially fall: It’s actually cold! When it’s chilly outdoors my oven does overtime baking duty. That might be why I’ve already burned through three baking ignitors in the oven since I bought it five years ago. (Or it might just be that I bought an oven that was less than capable of putting in the miles I require of it.)
When we finally get the weather I crave we’re also seeing storage potatoes, onions, rutabagas, greens and all sorts of winter squashes at my local farmer’s market. The winter squashes -butternut, acorn, Hubbard, turban, and pumpkins to name a few- are my favorite food of the season. They get a bum rap for difficulty in the kitchen. I think that’s owing to the fact that most people don’t think in terms of brute mutilation of the squash: They daintily jab at the big beasties with inadequately sized knives of dubious sharpness. It’s not their fault that they’ve just never been taught the easy way around a squash. I will now remedy that with the full set of instructions on how to open a hard winter squash.
Throw it. Seriously. Just find a location where a little amount of squash guts won’t do any harm, lift the squash as high up as you can get it and throw it as hard as you possibly can. If you’re muscle bound like Arnold Schwarzenneger or that ‘the Rock’ guy from those creepy mummies in Egypt movies whose names escape me right now you should probably just toss it gently or you’ll be cleaning squash puree off your sidewalk. Otherwise, propel that thing toward the hard ground like your life depends on it. If you have difficulty in lifing things you can even the playing field a bit by dropping it on a large rock. Even if it doesn’t break in two, it’ll at least provide a nifty crack that’ll make the process of splitting it vastly easier.
Once it’s opened, you can scoop out the guts, put the ‘cut’ side down on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about an hour or until the squash is easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove your pan from the oven and cool until you can easily handle it.
Now comes the fun stuff. You can go any of a number of ways from here. Leave the squash in it’s skin and stuff it with a mixture of brown rice, sausage, cranberry sauce, and spices. Alternately, you could scoop that beautiful baked squash away from the skin. Mash the squash and add a few pats of butter, a few grinds of pepper, a sprinkle of salt and eat! Or, you could do as I did yesterday by placing the mashed squash -without butter, bien sûr- in a strainer over a bowl for about 30 minutes. Take that resulting squash and make the world’s deadliest cake: Pumpkin Spice Cake with Grand Marnier Cream Cheese Icing and Dulce De Leche. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I know there are pumpkin cake recipes flying around cyberspace this time of year. I get it. Pioneer Woman made one that looked amazing. I saw her title before starting this post and thought, “Aw, geez. She beat me to it.’ Then I looked over the recipes and realized that they were two completely different cakes.
Besides, this cake screams, ‘FALL!’. Not only that, but it’s so easy to make it’s almost criminal. The pumpkin and the spice and the creamy, every so slightly Grand Marnier flavored icing and that drizzle of warm dulce de leche over the top sent me out of my head. I was so crazed by this cake that I was moved to sit in front of the woodstove and take pictures of it before I ate it in three bites. I had to eat it in three bites or I would’ve had to share it with the children. It was my sanity food. I do not apologize. I simply explain…
A serious bonus, in addition to the fact that this cake can save the world with it’s deliciousness, is the fact that this cake is very economical to prepare. If Grand Marnier would kill your budget right now, simply use a teaspoon of orange extract and two extra teaspoons of milk. If you leave off the icing and dulce de leche it makes a perfectly respectable breakfast. Don’t you want to live at my house now? I give cake for breakfast! The truth is that without the icing and caramel this is really quite good for you. And with the icing and caramel? Well, it’s good for your soul!
Pumpkin Spice Cake with Grand Marnier Cream Cheese Icing and Dulce De Leche
The name may be a mouthful, but you’ll understand when once you’ve eaten it that it’s worth every single pretentious word of it!
For the cake:
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups roasted, mashed, and drained pumpkin (You can use any number of pureed winter squashes here but I used pumpkin this time. You could also substitute an equal amount of canned pumpkin)
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup wheat flour.)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or apple pie spice)
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
- 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350° F. Butter or oil and flour a 13″ x 9″ baking dish and set aside.
Combine sugar, oil, vanilla, pumpkin and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a bowl for you to mix while standing…) Mix together until thoroughly combined. Now just dump all that other stuff in and blend until even. I mean it. Normally I’m all about the sifting and the dry/wet/dry business, but this cake is quick and easy. The blending process shouldn’t take you all that long. Maybe one minute. Perhaps a bit longer if you’re doing this by hand. Still, not so long!
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, smooth the top, and bake for 35-45 minutes or until the cake tests done. Place cake pan on a rack to cool and turn your attention to the Grand Marnier Cream Cheese Icing.
Ingredients for the Icing:
- 8 oz. brick cream cheese, softened
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 pound confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur)
- 1 Tablespoon milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Warm a small dish of dulce de leche, either homemade or purchased. Cut cake, place a piece of cake on a serving plate and drizzle very generously with the dulce de leche. Then lick the spoon because I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to waste dulce de leche.
Consider the itty, bitty amount of work that you put into this cake while you enjoy watching other people’s eyes roll back into their heads as they eat. Then guilt them into washing up the dishes while you eat yours. I tell you from experience it works!